2012 NFL Draft: The Best Fit for the Detroit Lions at Every Position
With the NFL Draft almost upon us, and front office personnel stating their vague but meaningful rhetoric on a near-daily basis, Detroit Lions fans have hopefully come to an important realization: no position is out of play.
It may not be in the first round, but the Lions could draft pretty much any position. In fact, a failure to keep every position in play at all times is a sure sign of a shortsighted, poorly-run front office.
That doesn't mean the Lions don't have needs. Quite the opposite, in fact. It means they have more needs than most recognize. Those needs might be for immediate starters, or they might be for depth players or to fill roles in coming years, but they exist in some capacity nonetheless.
So if no position is off-limits, then who should the Lions take at each position? This is a list of the best possible picks for the Lions based on skill set, scheme background and approximate draft position.
In other words, while workout warrior DT Dontari Poe might be a good fit for the Lions, they'd have to draft him in the first round (if at all) to get him, and it doesn't make sense for them to draft that position at that time, so he's not the pick. Same goes for, say, Ryan Tannehill. That logic is applied to all positions.
With that said, let's move to the position you're all probably wondering about first...
QB: Case Keenum, Houston
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Just kidding. Nobody is giving much though to who the Lions should draft at quarterback, and that's probably fair. With Matthew Stafford on the roster, nobody has to think about it anymore.
But still, Case Keenum is the right kind of project pick for the Lions. He had a successful college career, has a blue-collar attitude and a chip on his shoulder.
Now, in all likelihood Keenum will fizzle out at the NFL level, just like the record-setting, stats-compiling system quarterbacks that came before him (show of hands, who remembers Timmy Chang? Graham Harrell? Ty Detmer?).
But somewhere in Keenum is a guy who set NCAA records for passing yards and touchdowns. If the Lions can get Keenum in the seventh round (or better yet, undrafted) and translate even part of that game into something NFL-applicable, he's a great value, even if that's only as Shaun Hill's clipboard-holder.
If he ends up being Hill's eventual replacement, all the better for him.
RB: Doug Martin, Boise State
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I've thought long and hard about this, because Martin has been creeping up draft boards slowly but surely and he's starting to show up in some first-round mocks.
That means the Lions would likely have to draft Martin in the second round if they were to have any reasonable shot at him, and I shudder at the thought of drafting another running back that high.
All that being said, I'm simply not convinced there's a better fit for the Lions than Martin. He's a do-it-all kind of guy, a Steven Jackson-type who can run through any gap, catch the ball, break tackles, reverse direction and find the hole in the defense.
The knock on Martin is his lack of top-end speed, but he makes up for that with fantastic vision, strength and lateral quickness.
With the Lions' rampant uncertainty at the running back position, Martin makes sense because he's versatile enough to make up for the potential (and seemingly likely) loss of any of the other Lions backs without a steep drop-off in ability.
Isaiah Pead might be able to fill this same role, but from the third round and with a little more of a ceiling drop.
WR: Juron Criner, Arizona
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With Calvin Johnson and Titus Young, the Lions have the deep-threat receiver thing pretty much locked down.
That leaves Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew as the primary weapons in the intermediate range, and both exhibited some serious drop-related issues last season. That's not what you want after running a perfect 7-yard out on 3rd-and-6.
Neither Pettigrew or Burleson are bad players by any stretch, but Burleson is getting older, not better, and Pettigrew should not be playing the slot receiver role.
So in comes Juron Criner, arguably the best possession receiver in the draft. His slow-ish (4.6-range) 40 time is dropping him down draft boards, but he has great size (6'3", 225 pounds), good quickness and giant hands that pretty much catch anything.
Criner isn't the type of receiver who will beat guys deep (though he can snag the jump ball with a 38" vertical leap), but the Lions need somebody who can attack the middle of the field when Young and Johnson take the safeties deep.
Criner has the skills to do that, and he's good value in the role if the Lions can get him in the third round.
TE: Chase Ford, Miami
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What makes Chase Ford a good fit for the Lions is that he's a late-round project pick who was perhaps under-utilized at Miami.
The Lions have no real need for a tight end in this year's draft, so the only excuse for spending a pick on one is if they think a guy like Ford has enough upside to stick in the long term or serve as trade bait.
Ford wasn't much of a target at Miami, but he has the skills, and he could be a better prospect than his draft status would indicate. That's the kind of player the Lions will be looking for in the late rounds, regardless of position.
OT: Jonathan Martin, Stanford
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Jonathan Martin might not be the best fit for the Lions scheme-wise, as he played in a zone-blocking scheme at Stanford. And scouts are generally split on his ability to play left tackle in the NFL.
And yet he's still thought of as a lock in the top 25. Why is that?
Because Martin has the versatility to play either tackle position, in basically any scheme, as a talented run or pass-blocker, and is one of the most intelligent players in the draft both in terms of overall IQ (he turned down the opportunity to be a fourth-generation Harvard student to play for Stanford) and football IQ.
There are questions about his strength, but every player has to put on muscle when they get to the NFL. Martin has the frame for it, he just needs to get there.
Perhaps more important is that Martin has blind-side potential (he protected Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford, after all), but might need a year or two to grow into it (as is the case with most non-elite LT prospects).
Perfect. The Lions have a need on the blind side, but a year or two before they're ready to plug a new player in there. In the meantime, Gosder Cherilus is more of a question than an answer at right tackle, and it might be time to push him.
So Martin fills the right tackle starter/competition/depth need immediately, and the left tackle need when Jeff Backus is finally done. Martin's smart enough to pick up whatever scheme he fits in and big enough to muscle up at the next level. Everything works, in terms of skills and timing.
The only thing now is for him to be available at 23rd overall.
G: Cordy Glenn, Georgia
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If you've been following me at all this offseason, you know that Cordy Glenn is my pick of choice in the first round, if he's available.
He's huge, strong and unnaturally athletic. As a guard, he could instantly upgrade the Lions to an effective running team. As a right tackle, he would swallow pass-rushers whole and seal off the edge on outside runs.
And questions about inconsistent effort or motor? Not in the Lions' locker room.
Glenn would be a home-run pick in the first round. He's the best answer to a couple of different questions. If the Lions get him under contract, the only question is what they want to upgrade the most.
C: Phillip Blake, Baylor
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At one point, Peter Konz was my Cordy Glenn for the Lions: a panacea pick that would cure what ailed them.
But Konz put up a poor bench-press showing at the Combine and didn't participate in any other drills because he was injured. Again.
Konz is a solid player when he plays, but the fact is he misses a lot of time due to injury (he never played a full season in college). The one thing the Lions have going for them on the offensive line is durability, and Konz puts that in jeopardy.
Philip Blake isn't nearly as good a prospect, but he does bring one very valuable thing to the center position: size. Blake outweighs the incumbent Dominic Raiola by about 20 pounds, and most of the problems that will push him to the fourth or fifth round are mechanical.
Under Raiola's masterful tutelage, those issues could quickly become non-issues. Blake's body with Raiola's brain would make for a Pro Bowl-caliber player. In addition, Blake is an experienced shotgun snapper (which he'd need to be in Detroit), having played with Robert Griffin at Baylor.
Like Backus at left tackle, the Lions won't be ready to replace Raiola at center for a year or two yet. But when they are, it'd be nice to have a guy ready to step into the role immediately, providing much-needed depth in the meantime.
DT: Akiem Hicks, Regina University (Canada)
Do the Detroit Lions really need to draft a defensive tackle this year? No, not really. But they haven't missed a chance yet, so don't rule it out.
Corey Williams is in the final year of his contract, and Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen are on one-year deals. It would not be at all surprising to see the Lions let one of them walk next season (probably Williams), and it would be nice if the Lions were prepared.
Hicks is a lot like Hill—a big, strong tackle from a small school who needs lots of polish. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has worked wonders with the guys on the Lions' defensive front thus far, and Hicks could be his newest project.
So maybe the Lions don't really need a defensive tackle right now, but if Hicks turns out anything like Hill from a fifth-round pick, is anyone really going to complain?
DE: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
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Whitney Mercilus is good at rushing the passer. Nothing much really matters to him.
Sounds like Gunther Cunningham's kind of player.
Seriously, Mercilus has the size (6'4", 261 pounds) to be a natural end in a 4-3, though he has showed the athleticism to play as a 3-4 LB, too. He gets upfield in a hurry and is an evolving master of the fumble-sack.
Mercilus led the nation in both sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) in 2011, and so he declared for the draft as a junior. Mercilus is only turning 22 this summer, and a player with his raw ability and youth could be just scratching the surface of his potential.
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
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I was going to split this into middle and outside linebackers, but with the re-signing of Stephen Tulloch, the Lions really don't need a middle linebacker. So call me lazy.
Lavonte David is perhaps the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the 2012 Draft. He's first-round talent, easily. But he might fall all the way to the second round because his size and particular skill set are only applicable to a single position.
But it just so happens that the Lions are in the market for a weakside linebacker with speed and coverage ability, so David is a great match here. In fact, David is so talented, if he falls to the middle of the second round, I would not be opposed to the Lions trading up for him.
Even if you're really sold on DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant as starters, both are free agents next year, and the Lions might not have the money to pay both what they ask for.
I won't go so far as to say David is a can't-miss player (that's what they said about Aaron Curry in 2009), but he fills a need for the Lions in a big way and could be far and away the most talented guy on the board.
CB: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
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This might be a moot point at this point. There was a point when I figured the Lions would have a shot at Gilmore in the second round.
Now it seems he might go in the top 10.
Of course, we're mere days from the draft, so it's standard procedure to take anything you hear anyone say about any prospect and throw it directly in the trash can. 'Tis the season of misinformation and misdirection, especially from a team trying desperately to trade out of its draft slot.
Regardless, Gilmore is a hot prospect right now because he's a talented player who can play man or zone, bump or loose. In short, he fits everyone's scheme. The Lions might not get a shot at him, but if they do it's difficult to envision them passing on him.
This is what some quiet film study will do for a player's stock. Well, that and not getting busted for drugs.
S: Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
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I'm not really high on the Lions drafting more talent at safety until they know what they have in the youth that's already there.
But if they're going to draft one, they might as well go for it. They have enough young question marks on the roster at this point (and yes, I include Louis Delmas in that).
What the Lions need more than anything right now is a safety that can cover. Much of the reason they got lit up late last season was because of poor safety play on deep passes.
Smith can play up in the box, and he wraps up on tackles instead of lining up for the big hit and bouncing off (like some people), but he also has the speed and length to defend down the field.
Of course, Alabama's Mark Barron is also a solid pick, but he lacks one key thing the Lions would need in a new safety: durability.
It was injuries at the safety position that forced them to trot out guys like John Wendling and Chris Harris. Barron is talented but has an injury history. There's no point to drafting yet another player to put on IR and replace with some random guy on waivers.